News and notes from around town:
• The intersection of Ninth and New Hampshire streets has become like a craps game. You never know what number is going to end up being lucky.
Seven — as in the seven-story building at the southwest corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets — was lucky for developers Doug Compton and Mike Treanor. The 901 Building, as it has become known, registered nary a peep of public opposition.
But six and even five have not been nearly as lucky for the development duo. Neighbors, and the city’s Historic Resources Commission, have registered mighty opposition to proposals to build first a six-story and then a five-story building at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. That fight is still under way.
Now, the development group has filed plans for what it hopes will be its third building at the intersection. As we’ve previously reported, the group has struck a deal to purchase the Black Hills Energy building at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets, and hopes to build a multistory apartment building on the site.
Until recently, though, the development group hadn’t submitted official plans for the building. That has changed, and developers are back to betting on seven.
Plans filed at City Hall propose a seven-story building on the site where the Black Hills offices sit today. The building would have 90 to 120 apartment units on its upper floors, while the ground-level floor would have room for a 6,000 square-foot bank, a 6,000 square-foot clubhouse to serve the tenants of the apartments, and 5,000 square feet of office or retail space.
The bank, which would have two drive-thru lanes near the alley, is expected to be Lawrence Bank. It has a branch on the site today, and Compton is a director for the bank. No word on the office or retail users. Black Hills won’t remain. It is purchasing Compton’s office building on North Iowa Street. Adecco, Shirley Martin Smith’s employment agency, also is in the building. I haven’t heard what its plans are.
The site currently has its own surface parking lot, but it will be covered by the building. Instead, the project proposes building two levels of below-ground parking.
When I looked at the file at City Hall, it didn’t yet include actual renderings of the project. But those were expected to be submitted soon, so I’ll pass them along when I get them. Like the other two multistory buildings, the design will have to reviewed by the city’s Historic Resources Commission.
If approved, the project will be the largest apartment development in downtown’s history, I believe. The 901 Building has 55 apartments. This could perhaps more than double that total. Before you start harping about how Lawrence has so many apartments, my understanding is that all but one of the apartments at 901 have been leased. What people who harp about apartments often forget is that it is not the new apartments that often sit empty. It is the older apartments that struggle more with vacancies.
Apartment dwellers in Lawrence seem to have expectations that the newer developments are meeting better than the older ones. Mark my words, (excuse me, I just got a shiver. Usually those words come from my wife’s mouth, and that’s not good news.) Anyway, mark my words, one of the bigger issues over the next decade for Lawrence will be how and when older apartment complexes in the city redevelop.
As for the prospects of approval for this project, I understand those about as well as I understand craps. I’m confident city commissioners will be enthused about the idea of more living units in downtown. This proposal also is farther away from a residential neighborhood than the proposed building on the southeast corner. That should help its prospects. I wouldn’t bet on East Lawrence coming out and supporting the project, though. East Lawrence leaders will have a decision to make on how much they want to oppose. They’re spending a lot of political capital now on opposing the proposal on the southeast corner. If they fight as hard on this one, they’ll run the risk — fairly or not — of looking like they’re opposed to everything. I mention that because I’ve heard it come up with some elected officials.
So, we’ll just have to settle in and watch and wait. In the meantime, I’ll read up on craps. I once bought a book on how to win at the game from a Cadillac-driving author who was signing books at Lawrence’s Borders. I never could understand why if he had a winning system at craps he was spending his time signing books in a nearly empty Borders. I figured it out once I went to the casino.
• Speaking of Borders, I have a bit of an update. (Wow, what are the odds that I would have told a Borders story right before I was to give you an update? Don’t ask the guy in the Cadillac; he sucks at odds.) Anyway, the update is the large store at the corner of Seventh and New Hampshire is still empty. I chatted recently with the real estate broker who is marketing the property — Eric Gonsher of R.H. Johnson Co. — and he said there is still interest but no imminent deal.
He told me there have been both national and local retailers take a look at it, but retailers are being very selective right now. He said the ownership group of the building — based out of Michigan, I believe — is open to converting the retail building into a large-scale office space.
That might be an even bigger benefit to downtown than a new retailer, depending on how many jobs it would bring to the area.
But I would still keep an eye on the city of Lawrence becoming at least a temporary tenant of the facility. I’m expecting a report soon that details the benefits of moving the library from its space at Seventh and Vermont streets while it undergoes a $19 million renovation and expansion.
Gonsher confirmed to me the city recently has made some preliminary inquiries about the space. Certainly no deal is imminent, but Gonsher said the ownership group would be interested in renting to the city on a temporary basis, if a longer-term tenant doesn’t surface first.
• Gonsher also is the agent who has filed plans for a new commercial building that would be located in the northwest corner of the Walmart parking lot near 33rd and Iowa streets.
Gonsher said he can’t reveal tenants for that building yet. Based on the plans, though, it sure appears that a food use of some sort is likely. The plans show an outdoor patio area, but no drive-thru. So, we’re probably not talking about a fast-food burger type of joint. Many of the coffee shops also are seeking drive-thrus these days, so maybe that is not it either.
The total building only is 5,600 square feet, and the plans show it being divided into at least two spaces. So, not an overly large sit-down restaurant. It beats me. Look around the next time you are in a Walmart in another community. What businesses often show up in their parking lots? It will be a good guessing game for the summer, and now I’ve given you that excuse you’ve been looking for to visit Walmarts in other cities.
• That promises to be fun, perhaps about as much fun as driving on West Sixth Street will become next week.
City officials are warning motorists to expect delays on the portion of Sixth Street between Iowa and Monterey Way beginning on Monday. As previously reported, the city has funded a project to repave the section of street and add some turn lanes at Sixth and Kasold.
The project is slated to begin Monday and be completed by Aug. 10. City officials said contractors will keep at least one lane of traffic in each direction open through the duration of the project.